Safe Stress II
Incubation Vacation
Holiday Stress
Five Keys
Yellowstone Road
Brain Strain
Smoke Signals
Natural Speed I
Natural Speed II
Catch 22
Breaking A Habit 1
Breaking a Habit II
The Four Stages of Burnout
Rebuilding the Fire
Winds of War
Creative Burnout
Holiday Stress
Woman Knows War
Burnout Battlefront
Smoke Signals I
Smoke Signals II

The Stress Doc, responding to a Small Business Association request for an article, draws on personal experience and passionate interest. The Doc targets stress for the small business person with a "how to" concept that blends high performance with high nurturance. Are you ready to cultivate Natural SPEED?

The Small Business Owner's Guide for "Practicing Safe Stress"
Building Natural SPEED: Part I

Why might the small business owner need a "how to" for "Practicing Safe Stress"? Consider these two maxims. A surefire formula for stress smoke signals is chronically grappling with roles and tasks involving: 1) high demand and/or high responsibility and 2) low autonomy and an ongoing or pervasive feeling of being out of control. Do I have your attention? The second maxim, the classic definition of the small business owner, reveals the desire to manipulate the above "demand-control" stress formula: a person who'd rather work sixteen hours for him- or herself than work eight hours for someone else.

But for many owners there still aren't enough hours in the day, especially with the startling emergence and expansion of such technological innovations as cell phones and the Internet. Customers and clients are potentially anywhere and everywhere...at any time. The cutting edge small business owner not only competes in a rapidly changing real world, but must also harness a lightning-paced virtual business environment. There's a heightened demand for efficient and effective products and service delivery. Simultaneously, there's an ever-shrinking downtime window as your small business becomes far flung, crossing ever-greater numbers of time zones. And despite "the shock of the new," the existential-temporal dilemma remains familiar: "Can there be life after deadlines?"

In such a volatile economic environment how do you manage the inevitable stress without succumbing to small business burnout? If running a successful small business is more like running a marathon than a 100-yard race (though sometimes it feels like a barely interrupted series of dashes) then the key for surviving and thriving is the Stress Doc's formula for "Natural SPEED." The first segment focuses on Sleep and Priorities. Part II finishes with Empathy, Exercise and Diet. Let's begin at the end of the day.

Sleep. Don't be cheap with your need for sleep. It's nature's way to ebb and flow and help you grow. Don't you just hate those glib aphorisms. Actually, if you're like me, you often stay up too late and wake up too early to get eight hours of sleep. So learning to take power naps is critical. Even when doing an all day workshop, I'll shorten (not eliminate) lunchtime for naptime. However, integrating sleeping and napping has its limits apart from a foundation of biorhythmic awareness and practice. For example, being a morning person, one year I paid for defying my natural day-night cycle. As a part-time stress and violence prevention consultant for the US Postal Service, once a week I worked the 9pm to 5am shift. More than the conflicts on the workfloor, and despite periodic napping, my mind-body system just never adjusted to those unmerciful hours. Upon completion of my tour of duty, elevated blood pressure was my Purple Heart.

Priorities. Perhaps the most challenging realization for the small business owner is, "I can't do it all." And according to a classic efficiency and motivation principle, you apparently don't have to. The Pareto Principle, derived by an early 20th c. Italian sociologist, I believe, posits: "80% of our results are produced by 20% of our activities." What a proposition: you can downgrade the critical status of four-fifths of your preoccupations without feeling guilty! So focus on your passion and power and, at least, learn to delegate or collaborate if you don't want to downgrade.

Of course, for delegation to work, effective hiring must be a high priority. As a president of a New York City/Dallas executive search firm reminded me: "It's critical to hire the right person and it can be so expensive (financially and emotionally) when you hire the wrong one…Remember, the hiring decision is based on fit and culture."

The bottom line, of course, is creating a business environment conducive to success. Not effective hiring, not delegation, nor even the Pareto Principle, negates the reality that at times successful self-employed individuals or small business owners must hands on juggle a number of revenue-generating activities. Having multiple income sources is critical for survival in a competitive climate with uncertain client bases, shifting consumer preferences and quixotic markets or financial resources.

Multimania: Method or Madness?

While diversity provides security in the face of slow demand in one product or service line, constantly keeping a number of income-producing balls in motion can be exhausting. And with a time pressure tempest lurking or swirling, balls may be short-changed or mishandled; they can be deflated, dropped or, even, blown off course. Non-stop juggling can turn seeming financial stability into psychological stress. Yet many business owners can't afford not to get into the act. Welcome to "The Entrepreneurial Catch 22."

Let me illustrate. I'm constantly attempting to orchestrate a mix of organizational training, conference speaking, stress and team building consulting, a small therapy practice, running an online and offline support group, and column and article writing. (Whew! In fact, with all the writing, sometimes I feel I no longer have a life…I simply have a memoir.) Still, when one Stress Doc Enterprise ball appears "dead" or is out of season there are several options. The first involves consciously throwing away or tossing aside this unproductive ball, taking a breather and, then, giving existing projects added attention. (For example, my speaking and training business typically slows from after Thanksgiving to mid-January.) The second scenario requires patience and faith. Over time, economic forces and business climates change. Some advertising eventually pays off. After lying fallow, so-called dead balls may be pumped up and put back in play. And finally, letting go of a ball not only frees up energy for pursuing another ball but this transition may open up a whole new ballgame or business market. To quote the Nobel Prize-winning, French author and philosopher, Albert Camus: "Once we have accepted the fact of loss we understand that the loved one (or loved ball) obstructed a whole corner of the possible pure now as a sky washed by rain."

Here's a personal illustration of Camus' concept. Two years ago, the painful loss of a key team building contract because of division politics proved to be the catalyst for overcoming Internet inertia. Initially tentative about getting online, I now had extra time and energy for cyberspace exploration beyond cruising the personal ads. Meandering through an America Online writer's forum resulted in my writing a humor column for an electronic newsletter. This soon led to the moniker of "Online Psychohumorist" ™ for AOL's major mental health forum, "Online Psych." And within the year, in collaboration with an Information Technology colleague, my fledgling website was featured as a USA Today Online "Hot Site." The website - www.stressdoc.com - along with my expanding AOL presence (Keyword: Stress Doc) is creating a new revenue stream (online coaching for entrepreneurs and netrepreneurs) and adding to a steady one by garnering speaking/training contracts.

And then there are those times when all or most endeavors are simultaneously jumping; several balls are hot. Help! Where's that Pareto Principle?

Urgency, Familiarity and Simultaneity

Clearly, running a multifaceted enterprise requires both setting priorities and goals along with flexibly shifting time, energy, focus and resources to vital projects and urgent requests. Of course, customers and employees will frequently try to convince you their important needs are really urgent. Remember, urgent gets done now; important gets prioritized . For a priority system to work, key business players and partners often must negotiate to overcome turf and territorial instincts -- "My task is most important," "No, mine is even more critical." It's quite easy for the small business office to take on the manner and intensity, the loyalties and conflicts of a family. And sometimes you need an outside consultant to help you and your staff: a) handle "family" dysfunction and/or b) envision goals, establish consensus and become a dynamic, "whole is greater than sum of parts" team. (My motto - "Have Stress? Will Travel: A Smart Mouth for Hire!")

Survival of the fittest requires both individual integrity and interdependent solidarity. So be wary of that "Multiple & Simultaneous Demand Situation," when you are: a) responsible for an increasing number of people and projects, b) frantically managing an ever expanding base of data, policies and procedures, and c) feel like a slave to deadlines or tied up by thieves of time. If you are not careful, this Multiple & Simultaneous (or M & S) Demand Situation can turn around and become an "S & M" experience: you feel like a "Servant" to too many "Masters." The bottom line, priority-affirming strategy is "The Stress Doc's Basic Law of Safe Stress": Do know your limits and don't limit your "No"s!

And we've reached our limit for this column. Tune in next time for the big finish. Until then, of course...Practice Safe Stress!

Mark Gorkin, LICSW, the Stress Doc, a psychotherapist and nationally recognized speaker, trainer, consultant and author, is also known as AOL's and the internet's "Online Psychohumorist" ™. Check out his USA Today Online "Hot Site" website - www.stressdoc.com or <A HREF="www.stressdoc.com">STRESSDOC HOMEPAGE</A> and his page on AOL/Online Psych, Keyword: Stress Doc or <A HREF="aol://4344:972.doc.1264535.556723207">The Stress Doc @ Online Psych </A>.

** Catch the Doc's "Shrink Rap and Group Chat" on AOL/Digital City, Tuesdays, 9-10:30pm EDT -- <A HREF="aol://4344:1097.tuechat.25384394.563747919">Tuesday Chats</A> and <A HREF="aol://4344:363.gorkin.5732839.568857121">Dig City Promo - Stress Doc</A> .

** For his free newsletter, Notes from the Online Psychohumorist ™ or for info on the Stress Doc's Online Coaching program, email stressdoc@aol.com .